Collective Decision-Making: Be a Multiplier

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Multipliers" by Liz Wiseman. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is it more beneficial to make important decisions collectively rather than independently? How do you structure a good workplace debate? What decision-making mistakes should you avoid?

Decision-making Multipliers know how important the collective decision-making process is. They consult as many people as possible and ask debatable questions before carrying out a decision. Diminishers, however, don’t encourage debate and prioritize their own opinions.

Keep reading to learn about the importance of collective decision-making.

Collective Decision-Making

Decision-making Multipliers assume that collective decision-making is better than making decisions alone and consult as many voices as possible when making important decisions. (They know that not everything needs to be debated, but the highest-stakes issues do.)

In addition to leveraging intelligence, encouraging debate has additional advantages:

  • The shift from decision to execution moves smoothly. Because everyone was involved in the making of a decision, they understand the plan, the reasoning behind it, and the next steps, so there’s no confusion.
  • Debates reinforce the other disciplines. Debates encourage people to come up with ideas, learn from others, and use their genius by finding a way to apply it to a particular question.

Three Practices of Collective Decision-Making

When you’re making decisions as a group, there are some practices that you can use to encourage better outcomes.

Practice #1: Prepare in Advance for the Debate

To facilitate a productive debate on a pressing issue, the leader must establish parameters. They:

1. Articulate the question. Multipliers choose a question, not a topic (questions produce more productive debates). Ideally, the question is which of two options to choose.

  • For example, when Lutz took a role with Microsoft’s education business, there were two major problems—the department had little reach and wasn’t meeting its revenue goals. Lutz saw two ways to solve the problems: 1) Continue distributing education through corporate training providers but do it better, or 2) try distributing education through schools instead. His debate question was which of the two options the organization should pursue.

2. Justify the question. Multipliers explain why the question matters, why it requires a debate, and the consequences of not answering the question.

  • Lutz explained that this decision was very important because it would change how the company interacted with people.

3. Recruit and prepare the team. The leader decides who will participate in the debate and decision-making process, what their roles will be, and what they should prepare in advance. Interestingly, the best decisions tend to come from debates in which everyone has an opinion going in.

  • Lutz gave everyone on his team two weeks to complete a pre-debate assignment, which was often to find evidence to support their view.

4. Explain the decision-making workflow. The leader explains who will make the decision. Some options include consensus, majority rule, or a particular person (sometimes the leader, but not always).

Practice #2: Start the Debate

A productive debate must be:

  • Compelling. Everyone is invested in the question.
  • Complete. All the relevant information is shared.
  • Objective. Facts are valued more than opinions.
  • Informative. People learn about both sides of the question.

To achieve this kind of debate, Multipliers:

1. Remove fear of the leader. Fear makes people doubt their position or stay quiet. To remove fear, Multipliers don’t give their opinions until after everyone else has spoken and don’t scold people.

  • For example, Amit waits until the end of meetings to speak and is both truthful and respectful.

2. Push hard. Multipliers ask hard questions and demand people support their opinions with evidence. They ask everyone to talk. When the group comes to a decision too quickly, Multipliers prod the conversation back to life to ensure the group reaches the best decision, not just a swift one.

  • For example, in one meeting, most of the senior leaders were in favor of adding a new feature to their website. The CEO asked them to point to evidence that showed adding the factor would increase sales. The senior leaders looked at their data and realized that they didn’t have evidence, so they needed to get more information before making a call.

To practice this technique, realize that the most helpful thing a Multiplier can do in a debate is encourage others to think and produce answers. Use the following techniques to do this:

  • Once you’ve asked the debate’s question, step back and let others do the talking and find the answer.
    • For example, when the author was facilitating a children’s discussion about books, she would ask questions about the stories but then go quiet.
  • Demand evidence. When someone gives an opinion, ask them to point to a data cluster or trend to back it up.
    • When the children share an interpretation, they have to point to a line in the text that supports their view.
  • Encourage the more timid people to speak up. Often, quieter people have analytical minds.
    • For example, the leader calls on quieter people or holds back the louder ones.

3. Ask people to argue from a different or opposing point of view. This has several advantages: People see an issue from different perspectives, discover problems they couldn’t see from their point of view, challenge assumptions, develop empathy, use the best ideas from both sides, and become less partisan. Then, when the final decision is made, no one feels emotional about losing the debate because the question is depersonalized—since people have argued for both sides, they’re less loyal to their original position.

  • For example, when Lutz facilitated a debate, he asked one person, who’d been focused on the technical side of things, to debate from marketing’s point of view.

Practice #3: Carry Out the Decision

After the debate, Multipliers:

1. Review and tweak the decision-making workflow. Multipliers re-explain how the decision will be made, noting any changes to the process that the debate brought out—for example, a delay in deciding because a piece of information was missing. They also reiterate who will be making the decision. 

  • For example, Allison tells her team exactly who will make the decision and by when. This lets people know that their work in the debate will be used.

2. Decide. Multipliers make, help make, or let someone else make the decision, depending on what was decided.

  • For example, Chris generally likes consensus, but if that’s too slow for a particular decision, he’ll make the decision himself or ask the expert to decide.

3. Share the decision with the organization. The more people who understand the reasoning behind the decision, the more comfortable they’ll be executing it.

  • For example, Lutz’s debates and decision-making sessions were usually open to spectators from all levels of the organization. The spectators learned why particular decisions were being made.

Decision-Making Diminishers

Decision-making Diminishers assume that collective decision-making isn’t worth their time, so they make quick decisions by themselves or with the help of only a few others. This limits their ability to capitalize on the organization’s collective intelligence (usually the people closest to the issue aren’t consulted) and overworks the decision-makers.

Diminishers may seem efficient because decisions get made quickly, but the net result of their decision-making is lost time and effort:

  • People are confused about the decision and how to execute it, so they direct their energy and intelligence towards trying to figure out the logic rather than using these mental resources for execution. 
  • Diminishers waste time and energy convincing people that their decision was the right one. 
  • If people aren’t convinced, they can become resentful and disengage from executing the decision.

Three Practices of Decision-Making Diminishers

Practice #1: Bring Up Problems and Dictate Solutions

Diminishers identify problems and decisions but don’t invite others to contribute to solving or making them. They tell people what they’d decided but don’t explain why or how. 

Practice #2: Talk Too Much

Diminishers don’t facilitate debate; they lecture about the topic or issue at hand.

  • For example, Jonathan amassed a team of smart people to help him make a decision, but he used them to give him information, not to help make the decision. In meetings, he talked constantly.

Practice #3: Push for a Decision

Diminishers cut debates short or prioritize their opinion to come to decisions faster.

  • For example, at the end of a meeting, executive Joe said that he thought everyone agreed on the decision. He’d spent so much of the meeting talking about his own opinions that he didn’t realize that most people didn’t agree with the decision at all, which became obvious when one woman told him so.
Collective Decision-Making: Be a Multiplier

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Liz Wiseman's "Multipliers" at Shortform.

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  • Why multipliers make better leaders than diminishers
  • How multipliers increase the total intelligence and capability of a team
  • The 3 steps to follow if you want to reduce your own diminishing qualities

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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